By: Melinda Bateman
I arrived in Cudidad Romero on the 11th of November. I spent my first week here with a delegation touring various projects and enjoying the natural beauty of El Salvador. My second week started with a meeting with the production team, the Ag boys as I now call them.
I am a small scale Bio-dynamic grower in the US, and was a certified organic farm for 12 years. They have been very actively promoting Organic Agriculture in this region for 12 years. Historically this region was used for planting cotton, and the DDT levels in the soil are still high enough to contaminatethe well water. Before my arrival, I was billed as an Irrigation expert, and a compost expert. I have been using drip for about 18 years on my farm in Taos, New Mexico, but don’t know much about other systems of irrigation. What is clear to me now is that this region is going to change drastically in the next few years. This change will involve all growers of any size or type using irrigation systems to grow in the cooler dry season. The current weather patterns are just too unstable to count on growing crops in the rainy season. Let me explain a bit. Since the Bajo Lempa region is already very hot, too hot to grow many crops, like carrots, beets, broccoli and so on, and since the rain in the rainy season is now not so predictable, i.e. there are often 2 week periods with no rain, add in the possibility of a flood covering all the land with 3 feet of water for a week or two, and you begin to see why no one can count on growing food during this season anymore. This is the picture of climate change! Erratic weather, and strong weather events. Drip or other systems of irrigation are not a luxury here, they are a necessity. I am curious to see how this will unfold.
As for compost, Compost is the backbone of Bio-dynamic farming, and I have been really enjoying working with the materials available here. It might sound silly, but I will never have access to such great sources of manure in Taos as I do here. I am pretty sure there are as many cows in Cuidad Romero as there are people, milk cows, even better. Milk cows that get to eat grass, every day, even better! So two weeks ago I made an experimental compost pile at the research center just using local material. I got help from the gardeners, Geraldo, Freddy, and Rosita, a student in Agronomy that is currently an Eco-Viva scholarship recipient helped me. This pile progressed well, so last week at a small meeting that I had with 5 students of the organic ag school , I offered to come out to farms and help make compost. So far I have made two piles with local farmers, and have dates to make two more. Rosita invited me to attend another meeting with some backyard growers, families who are getting some support from the government here because they have some children in their families who are at risk for weight gain. She wants to offer the same support to have me come and build compost piles with these families too. For reasons that I have yet to understand, a process of making compost called Bochasi is the type of compost currently being made here. This process is too labor intensive for a small scale grower and uses materials that are hard for a local grower to get onto their farms. Nobody has a truck, just bikes. The compost pile that I made yesterday at Ernesto’s used manure that he bagged up and brought down to the farm on a special bike that has a cart welded onto the front of it.
I have also been working a bit in the research garden and we are about ready to plant a trial crop of a few types of lettuces that I hope might do well with the heat they have here. One of the goals is to create diverse crops, a great idea! Mono culture is still very prevalent here. Sugar Cane seems to be giving way to Corn. I am going to leave behind a plan for the research garden that includes up to 20 different crops, fruits which grow well here, and vegetables. They currently have 7 to 10 crops growing in the garden.
Every day here holds some special moment, the pig running across the street dripping mud and happy as a pig in…………….that makes me laugh. Or the lovely grandma that takes my arm to help her across the street, or the 4 month old orphaned goat that timidly makes her way into my dorm room and discovers herself in the mirror!
People have been so warm and welcoming. Someone asked me early on if I missed my home and family. The answer was not really, I have been too engaged and busy with what happens here! Have I eaten too many Pupusas yet? I had 3 for dinner last night and enjoyed them all. I do miss a good salad, nothing like fresh arugula or a carrot pulled from my farm, but once I return to the states, I will miss these great handmade tortillas.
This January, after my Christmas break, I return for another month of volunteer work. With any luck, we will be eating lettuce, and spreading some new compost to see how the plants like it!